At the National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, legal fireworks have commenced in a suit filed by Senator Godswill Akpabio against Dr. Christopher Ekpenyong and four other respondents.
Senator Akpabio, who currently represents Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District, contested on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Akpabio is challenging the outcome of the February 23, 2019 National Assembly elections by which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Dr. Christopher Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as winner.
The suit has Senator Akpabio as petitioner while Dr. Christopher Ekpenyong, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), INEC, Returning Officer and Resident Electoral Officer, Mr. Mike Igini, are respondents.
Present at the tribunal to represent the petitioner, Senator Akpabio, was Mr. Sunday Ameh, SAN and Mr Adekunle Oyesanya, SAN. Also present were Mr Kanu Agabi, SAN for Engr Ekpenyong, Mr Solomon Umoh, SAN for the PDP and Ms. Oluwaseun Oluseyi for INEC.
Legal fireworks ensued during the pre-hearing of two applications earlier filed by Mr Agabi, SAN, and adopted by counsels to other respondents. The applications sought to dismiss Akpabio’s petition and set aside the order granted him for inspection of election materials kept by INEC. Agabi also prayed the tribunal to set aside the petition on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.
Counsel to the PDP, Solomon Umoh, SAN prayed the tribunal to “set aside the petitioner’s request for forensic analysis of election materials” as well as “dismiss all reliefs granted to the petitioner.” Because, according to him, the inspection process of the election materials has been prejudiced” and that the “only grounds of obtaining an order must be by motion on notice”, which, he said to the respondents failed to file.
Umoh also prayed the tribunal to award a cost of N500,000 against the petitioner, but was unanimously overruled by the three-member panel.
Responding to Umoh, counsel to the petitioner, Mr Ameh, SAN slammed the respondent applicant’s claim that the inspection process of the election materials had been prejudiced. “Having been invited to the inspection, in what way has the order of inspection granted been prejudiced?”, he queried.
While noting that the respondents’ “objections are bereft of merit”, Ameh prayed the tribunal to grant an order to stay execution, to enable his team study the all the respondents’ applications.
Chairman of the tribunal, Hon. Justice Akanbi, who spoke on behalf of the three-member panel of judges, urged counsels to all parties and their supporters to fully cooperate with the tribunal in order to ensure that justice is expeditiously served. Kanu Agabi, SAN, on behalf of counsels representing all parties at the tribunal, thanked the judges and pledged the cooperation of the Bar with the panel all through the duration of the tribunal.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the sitting, counsel to Senator Akpabio, Mr Oyesanya, SAN said his client has a good case having won the senatorial election and they were confident that justice would be served at the tribunal.
Chairman of the tribunal, Hon. Justice Akanbi adjourned the hearing and reserved ruling on the prayers of respective parties for a yet to be announced date.